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"An Incomplete Template" - Destiny, the $500 million work-in-progress

Matt Gardner
Activision, Assassin's Creed, Bungie, Destiny, FPS games

"An Incomplete Template" - Destiny, the 0 million work-in-progress

...that reminds me of Assassin's Creed

Destiny reminds me of the original Assassin's Creed.

Wait, come back. Let me explain.

I remember when the original Assassin's Creed came out, and the hype train was a full speed for that particular title. I remember it being the game on everyone's lips, not least in part because one of the core aspects of the way that game handled felt so liberating and exciting. Running and climbing was fluid and intuitive and wildly freeing. I remember local multiplayer nights being replaced by us crowding round a single Xbox, swapping the controller back and forth every so often just as we had years before when the GTA series was in its infancy. This central mechanism, this seamless parkour and vertical freedom from which everything else seemed to derive, was incredibly exciting.

That might all seem a little daft now, but at the time it was extraordinarily exciting, coupled with open-ended assassination missions that gave you the run of the city and empowered you to make your own decisions. The core of the game was fresh and fun and brimmed with promise and potential.

"An Incomplete Template" - Destiny, the 0 million work-in-progress

That's the thing, though, it took Assassin's Creed II to take the franchise to the next level and really deliver on that potential, realising the promise hinted at in that first game. For all of its seemingly breathless originality and ambition at the time, the original Assassin's Creed was also repetitive, clunky, and fell far short of the grandiose ambitions underpinning its structure. Altair was a blank cipher, whose American voice sounded out of place amongst the heavily accented tones of every other character, and although the game around him had some nice ideas, it was mired in content that still had some way to go, its quality diminished by missions of an increasingly formulaic and repetitive nature, and a devolution into endless combat encounters the further along you got.

At the time of release, Electronic Gaming Monthly described it as "an incomplete template based on multiple other games" -- there were some unique flavours in the mix, but it took a sequel for Assassin's Creed to really find its feet and its complete identity.

That quote above could just as easily be applied to Destiny. In fact, it's even more pertinent here.

"An Incomplete Template" - Destiny, the 0 million work-in-progress

Destiny is a bit of a mess, far more of a mess actually than the original Assassin's Creed was, quite frankly. It must be said, though, that the scale of Bungie's ambitions at least have matched the outlandish budget: to create the definitive one-stop shooter, a seamless blend of solo, co-op, and competitive gameplay as a shared, social experience. Unfortunately what we have with Destiny is a jack of all trades, and a master of absolutely none. Even as pretender to be the definitive multitasking game, Destiny evokes the sense of an "incomplete template" -- lacking substance beyond the basics of gameplay.

We've already said countless times that the gunplay in Destiny is superlative, and it is. The feel of the weapons, the impactful nature of the sound design, and the rewarding visual feedback combine to make a core experience that should, could, and hopefully will be the basis for something truly great.

It's easy to forgive in multiplayer of course, but that's no real defence. Even Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel became vaguely enjoyable with a friend by one's side. There's a scene in Parks and Rec where kids are throwing bags of dog poo at one another. Sure, they're laughing and joking around, but it's literally shit. "Better with friends" is not the ringing endorsement some would have you believe it is.

Destiny is far from shit, but that doesn't mean the sun shines out of its arse either.

"An Incomplete Template" - Destiny, the 0 million work-in-progress

The trouble with jack-of-all-trades games is that they rarely prove to be anywhere near as stimulating as the specialised games that form the nearest point of comparison. Even though I'm becoming more appreciative of the loot system in Destiny, particularly the Engrams, I can't help but feel that games like Borderlands still do progression better. For all of the talk of MMO-esque features and a "shared experience", the worlds feel empty, Fireteams too small, and the broken experience of having to return to the main menu time and time again, suffering the painfully long loading times just to move from story to side missions in the same sodding area, undermine the sense of scale and epic atmosphere completely. Moreover, the side missions are dreadful, especially the ones that demand you travel halfway across the enormous to stand on an incredibly specific spot for no good reason whatsoever.

Bungie have bettered Destiny when it comes to delivering a narrative-framed sci-fi shooter experience too. I never really played Halo for the story necessarily, but at least I understood the context of things -- at least those games bothered to try and give me some reason for the shootybangs. All we have here is a bored Peter Dinklage and some of the most unimaginative good vs evil tropes I've ever seen. It's a $500 million game, and the best Bungie could come up with for the Big Bad that's marauding its way across the galaxy is the sodding Darkness. Are you freaking kidding me?

"An Incomplete Template" - Destiny, the 0 million work-in-progress

The Crucible is perhaps the most fully-realised aspect of the whole experience (apart from the Tower, which is frankly brilliant, and arguably the one thing just about holding everything together). But even here, in arena PvP, it's hard not to get the sense that Bungie have held something back. There's a paucity of modes and maps that would have been unthinkable in the last few games from this studio. By their own standards, it's a slightly meagre online offering from a content standpoint.

But I'm still playing it. Just as I played Assassin's Creed all the way to the end and then long afterwards as well.

Part of that is the hype, I can see that. It feels like an event, like something big -- a new-gen release of real significance. And much of that has been fabricated thanks to that whopping budget, but it's big in another sense too: one of the biggest publishers in the industry is forging ahead with a decade-long plan for a new IP and this is the first step. Destiny is certainly newsworthy, it's worth the attention, it is a big deal, and I'm enjoying being a part of it. Part of it is due to Bungie.net -- from the clan system to the stat-tracking that'll be familiar to anyone who used the service to track their progression in the Halo games of yore, the studio do a good job of making you feel a part of something greater. Battlelog and COD: Elite grew out of Bungie's original service, and chasing better numbers is one of the cornerstones of a great many titles in this industry.

"An Incomplete Template" - Destiny, the 0 million work-in-progress

But part of it is simply because there are moments when Destiny really comes alive, when the content shines on its own merits -- a perfect synthesis of gunplay, enemy placement, well-balanced abilities and weapon systems, made all the sweeter by ramping up the challenge and planting a friend by your side. The Strikes are excellent, what is there for the Crucible is highly enjoyable, and that feeling of exultation when you snaffle some awesome loot is made even more special by the relative scarcity of it in this game. There are moment-to-moment highlights of emergent brilliance, melee sandwiches for persistent foes, Sparrow stunt moves and epic races, victory dances after a particularly tough encounter.

As was the case with Assassin's Creed, the future is bright for Destiny. That I want to play it even as I write this is indicative of something fundamentally good about many of the game's core elements. In some ways, it feels like the most expensive Early Access project ever, but what's broken is fixable, and what's absent can be delivered, more easily than ever in today's digital environment. We might not even have to wait for Destiny 2 for many of those improvements given the way that modes have been clunkily bolted together.

I will wait, though. And I'll be playing Destiny while I do, eagerly anticipating whatever comes next. Just as I did with Assassin's Creed.

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